From Darkness to Light

From Darkness to Light

The Story of Lalitha: “first she couldn’t swallow, then she had no food to eat”

“He brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder” (Psalm 107:14)

May 1990

Lalitha was a 29 year old spinster, the only child in the family living with her mother Somawathie, a rubber tapper earning a daily wage. Following an argument Lalitha tried to commit suicide by swallowing Acetic acid (referred to as rubber acid by those in that occupation and usually kept in their homes. It is used to coagulate the latex). This dangerous incident took place in May 1990 at their home in Ingiriya.  She collapsed with acute chest pain and was rushed to the nearby District Hospital. After initial care she was transferred to a “Bigger” hospital further away and spent two months there with her mother by her side. At that stage she could not swallow and hence was referred to a Thoracic Unit of a General Hospital. She was diagnosed to have a stricture (narrowing) of the gullet. According to Lalitha attempts had been made on 48 occasions to stretch the narrowed gullet so that she could swallow her food. This procedure in surgical terms is referred to as Oesophagoscopy and dilatation of the oesophagus (gullet). Mind you on each occasion she had to undergo general anaesthesia and this procedure was spread over a period of eight years. On every occasion she had some relief of her symptoms but not complete cure of her problem.

October 1998

I first met Lalitha in October 1998 when she was referred from that hospital to my Unit at the Sri Jayewardenapura General Hospital (SJGH). She was 37 years of age. Her body showed signs of wasting and was looking ill at the time of her admission to the ward. Lalitha’s main complaint was that she had difficulty in swallowing and could take only liquids, that too only a trickle at a time. A pathetic situation indeed as her body was wasting away slowly but surely.

What had happened?

Swallowing Acetic acid leads to a burn injury of the gullet (the passage that takes food from the throat to the stomach). This causes acute chest pain and shock immediately afterwards. After the initial burn injury heals the gullet becomes narrow gradually due to contraction of the scar tissue. The narrowing of the gullet leads to the difficulty in swallowing food and drink. This in turn leads to a multitude of problems such as dehydration, anaemia, malnutrition and finally the body withers away leading to death unless major reconstructive surgery is carried out to remove and replace the burnt gullet with another part of the bowel enabling her to take food in a satisfactory manner.

Lalitha had a blocked gullet- she could not swallow

Lalitha was in a desperate situation as she had suffered with difficulty in swallowing for eight years. Initial investigations carried out in my unit revealed that her gullet was so narrow that nothing would pass through that passage. However it would have been a surgical disaster if I attempted corrective surgery without improving her general condition and the associated malnutrition, anaemia etc.

Initial care

This is a very important aspect in the management of such patients. That is to correct her dehydration, anaemia and malnutrition etc. There was no way of doing this part of the management by giving her nutritious food through the normal route as it was completely blocked. It was not even possible to pass a tube through her nose via the gullet (nasogastric tube) into the stomach. Thus we had to think of another way. She underwent a minor surgical procedure where a tube was inserted to a loop of the small intestine. This is called a Jejunostomy. This allowed us to feed her with high energy, protein rich liquids and provide all the nutrients to correct her nutritional deficiencies. This process went on for three months, by which time   she was in a good physical and mental condition to undergo a major surgical procedure.

Lalitha undergoes major reconstructive surgery

Lalitha underwent a major surgical procedure which lasted 8 hours. The gullet that was burnt and scarred was completely removed by an approach through the neck and the abdomen without opening the chest where the gullet is situated. This procedure is referred to as “Transhiatal Blunt Oesophagectomy” (TBO).  Next a segment of the large bowel with its blood supply was prepared. This segment was taken through the chest and placed in the normal site of the gullet and was used to bridge the gap. This was connected at the top end to the Pharynx (throat) and at the bottom end to the stomach.

 This will now act as the conduit to convey food from the pharynx to the stomach. After a few days in the Intensive care she was managed in the ward. Feeding was introduced gradually after two weeks, liquids first, followed by semisolids and thereafter solids like rice. She spent nearly a month in the ward and on discharge was able to take food through the normal route although slowly and in small quantities at a time. Lalitha survived and went home happily as she was able to swallow food and drink once again. She was advised to attend the clinic on a regular basis but defaulted on many occasions for various socio-economic reasons.

Lonely Lalitha Marries Chathupala – 2006 (I am not invited)

After recovery from the operation she continued to live with her mother until her mother’s demise. Loneliness set in as expected. She had no income as well. Lalitha who was 45 years then met and married Chathupala a 61 year old rubber tapper living in the vicinity. That was in 2006 eight years after the major operation. One year later she gave birth to their only son Kumuditha.  To my surprise, suddenly she appeared at the clinic one day carrying baby Kmuditha in her arms.

Lalitha seeks Financial Assistance

She was well, but the reason for her visiting the clinic was to obtain some financial assistance from me to buy milk for her baby boy and some vitamins for her. Lalitha used to visit my clinic whenever she was in a desperate financial situation. Chatupala had no permanent job and used to earn Rs 300/= per day on and off. That was barely sufficient for their sustenance especially with a small child. I used to help her in a small way every time she visited the clinic. That gave her confidence and strength to carry on. I retired from service in October 2014 and after that she could not find me at the clinic anymore.  I too lost contact with her.

Lalith establishes contact with me once again in 2017

Three years later in a state of desperation Lalitha had visited the ward where she was treated in at SJGH. Lalitha was well known to the staff and obtained my phone number from one of them. Thus Lalitha was able to establish contact with me once again. She started calling me regularly to inform me of the difficult situation that she, Chathupala and the boy were going through because of a lack of a regular source of income. Chathupala had no regular income and the so called “Samurdhi” benefit for the poor of Rs 2000/= was not forthcoming on a regular basis. I too became desperate as I could not do much just by answering her telephone calls. I realised that the situation was critical and something had to be done to take this family out of poverty and hunger. I took it upon myself to do the needful before it was too late. I had to act fast. I realised that “those calls were coming to me from the Almighty up there” and could not be ignored.

I travel the extra mile in October 2017

I obtained her address and the directions to her house and informed her that I will be visiting her. The entire family was happy. Their house was in a place called Handapangoda on the Meepe- Ingiriya road about 40 km from my residence. As it was difficult for me to locate the residence Lalitha met me at a certain junction on the main road. She got into my car and directed me and we travelled about 2 km. That was all we could go. The next part of the journey was by foot, trekking through a narrow winding and hilly path across a rubber estate to reach the house on top of an isolated hillock.  It was a sad plight at first site. In fact the construction of the house was incomplete and the inside of it was so dark and like a “dungeon”.  They were certainly living in darkness.  I spoke with them regarding their problems. They faced plenty of problems all connected to poverty and the lack of a regular income. I departed promising to help the family come out of the dark situation they were facing.

Promise fulfilled with help from generous donors

On my way back home I was thinking how I can help this family to come out of their problems and live happily. I drafted a letter titled “The Story of Lalitha: plea for help” indicating the difficulties faced by this family and sent it across by e-mail to many friends, relations and a few organisations.  I also published a small letter in the daily newspaper. There was a tremendous response. Even people I had never met before some living overseas chipped in with their donations. This shows the generosity of our people – “ask and you shall receive.” Some even visited the family in their humble home with “goodies” and cash. That gave them tremendous happiness because they were gradually coming out of their loneliness.

What next

I opened a joint saving account to deposit the funds received. Lalitha too was advised to open a savings account at a nearby bank. Some donors deposited the money directly to her account. After I had received a substantial sum I visited their home and decided on the changes, repairs that were required. With the help of a local contractor all the changes were carried out. I also supplied additional items of furniture, a water tank and a few more electric bulbs to give additional light. Lalitha and her son used to walk two Km daily to reach the main road to get a bus to school. A school van was arranged to take the boy to school. Additional classes in English, Maths and IT were also arranged so that Kumuditha will receive a sound education. Every month Lalitha receives Rs 15,000/= sometimes more for their daily expenses including medicines. This is by way of a standing order from the joint account to her local account. A phone and a small LED Television was also provided. Now they are happy and smiling thanks to all the generous donors who contributed magnanimously. Some continue their support to date.

Lalitha and family invited for a Christmas meal at home – December 2018

I invited the entire family to lunch at my residence on 26th December 2018 to have lunch with my family members and a few others as well.  Chatupala could not attend. It was happy day for them. They not only met my family members but Kumuditha was also able to play with my grandchildren.

LALITHA AND KUMUDITHA WENT BACK HOME HAPPILY. WE WERE HAPPY TOO!

In touch with me regularly

Now Lalitha and Kumuditha contact me regularly by phone. Kumuditha in fact contacts me on Whatsapp using his Smart phone which I bought for him from the funds received from donors.  This was necessitated by the fact that with the closure of the schools all the lessons were taught on line.

After each telephone conversation the parting words are “Sir we are happy now, May God Bless You and Your family”. When are you coming to see us again?

Dear Reader, A very scary and hairy story where very few of these cases are recorded around the world : ‘HAIR SCARE’

24 thoughts on “From Darkness to Light

  1. Dear Dr. Gamini,

    The “ Comments” click did not work, hence this note.

    The story of Lalitha is amazing . The exceptional surgery is one thing and the post-operative care even after losing contact with the patient for some time is – Christianity in practice.

    You are a true light to the world.

    Sincerely,

    Dehan

    1. Dear GAMINI.
      Thank you for showing us “the way”. This is truly an example of Christ’s love in action. And an eye opener to recognising and responding to God’s direction.
      May you continue to progress from strength to strength.
      Dinali

    2. Dear Dehan
      Although the comments click did not work, your valuable comment has appeared on site so that others can also view your comment. Thank you for following my blog and your comments that encourages me to write more.
      Best wishes
      Gamini

  2. The story about Lalitha brought me great satisfaction for all you have done as a redeemer to that girl and her family. The surgery you did to her to get her on her feet is wonderful. I am sure the good Lord will bless you for all you have done for the poor people who have come in contact with you and obtained your marvelous services, which I don’t think any other medical man in this country has ever done.

  3. Once again a very touching and thrilling experience which I am glad you have shared.
    It amazes me how you so easily explain this story and make it very easy to understand in terms of using a very lucid style in explaining such a sophisticated issue and that also in a very story like way.
    Once again you had gone out of the way to help one your patients and that is something not many would ever do and that displays your difference among the others.
    Well done Dr. and do write many more!
    AMS

    1. Dear Avishka
      Thank you for your comment. It is simply the passion to do something that makes it easier together with God’s Grace to help and educate others that keeps me going. That makes me happy too !
      Gamini Goonetilleke

  4. Lalitha receives divine attention after a lapse of a decade and more from Dr. GG who later turned out to be a Guardian Angel to her and her family.
    Blessing be showered upon Dr. GG for many more years of Divine strength.
    Guardian Angels do come in the form of Medical Surgeon too.

  5. Dear Gamini,

    You teach us that a doctor has to be a complete healer; the healing process doesn’t end in the consulting room or the operation theatre. The bigger responsibility is to see that he/she is completely reinstated.

    Thank heavens that there are doctors like you to restore our faith in this particular community who are ready to strike at the drop of a hat. But that’s a fast diminishing number, unfortunately.

    May God bless you and your efforts!

    Max

  6. Dear Dr Gamini

    I was truly touched by the medical attention your have given Lalitha.
    You will be blessed. I was born in that area Ittapana. My mother was a RMP
    attached to the Hospital and we had Government quarters. I married a Miss
    Thenabadu – yes thats the family – she is Dr Sugathadasa Thenabadu’s daughter.

    Most certainly I will pay Lalitha a visit, when I come down to Sri Lanka next.

    Sincerely
    D R Weerasinghe
    Canada

    1. Dear Dulsri
      Thank you for following my blog and for your comments. Very much appreciated. Lalitha and family are very happy when people visit them. I will certainly give their contact details when you come to Sri Lanka
      Best wishes
      Gamini

  7. you have not only attended on Lalitha surgically to get her out of a serious health problem, but also helped the family to come out of a pathetic condition.

  8. Healing hands are instruments of God answers the prayers especially of those in hope, Ed’s and desperate situations. you, Dr.Gamini is among the chosen few who is given that “ God given Grace “

  9. Sir,Your competency cured her physical illness and your kindness cured her family from poverty.Sir you opened the gate for them for darkness to light.Today everything depends on money.In such society personality like you are very rare.When I read this article I recalled Dr R.L.Spittel who supported to wannilaaththo during his tenure as a consultant surgeon in our country.Sir I wish you all the best.

  10. It is comforting to read such stories. You not only supported the poor but got friends also to join in that meritorious deed. I am glad I had the good fortune to join you.

  11. Gamini is not only a brilliant and dedicated doctor, but a person with principles. I think he had never joined the doctors trade union. Although not a Buddhist, he is a true Buddhist, who had helped anyone who needs help for healthcare, and one of the few who wasn’t behind money to treat sick patients.

  12. Gamini, your commitment is wonderful and inspiring. Hope we both can help the needy. You have my support. God bless you for helping the hungry.

  13. We are so impressed by your story of Lalitha and what a Good Samaritan you have been to her and the family. Believe it or not, I can remember her in your ward as I came to visit Fr. Derrick and you asked me to go to her bed and speak to her. You told me about her attempted suicide. The rest of the story is as incredible as the surgery!

  14. What an amazing true life story. They look so happy . God bless you abundantly for making their lives so meaningful.

  15. Sir I remember those days…
    I remember your facial expressions when you see patients progress day by day after surgery…
    You did your service beyond your job that is why you can be happy for ever in your life. God bless you Sir.

  16. Gamini, you are more than a doctor!!!
    You are a good human being with a kind heart and a caring mind. God will reward you for your act of mercy.
    God bless

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